WINNIPEG — Mark Cohon says he’s looking forward to showcasing the modern CFL in one of the league’s proudest homes.
Sporting a blue-and-gold tie, the CFL commissioner officially announced Wednesday that the Winnipeg Blue Bombers will host the 103rd Grey Cup game on Nov. 29, 2015.
Cohon said the event will highlight the growth of the league and show off the 33,500-seat Investors Group Field, which opened last year. Seating will be expanded to 41,000 with temporary seating for the championship game.
Winnipeg has hosted the Grey Cup in 2006, 1999 and 1991.
"This gives us a great opportunity to showcase the modern CFL in our premier event in a beautiful, modern Investors Group Field," Cohon said at a luncheon in Winnipeg.
"It’s really the new look and feel that we have that’s coming across the league."
He pointed out the Hamilton Tiger-Cats will open Tim Hortons Field this summer, while the expansion Ottawa Redblacks will christen TD Place this year. Regina is set to open its new stadium for the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 2017.
But there are some dark clouds looming over the league, as the four-year collective bargaining agreement with the CFL Players’ Association expires in late May just before training camps open.
Players are looking for a bigger piece of the pie, with revenue sharing reportedly one of their goals. Talks between the association and league broke off earlier this month, but are scheduled to continue next month.
Cohon has been publicly silent on negotiations, but when asked about it he said the league has been open with players about the state of its finances.
"It’s not about revenues, it’s about profitability," Cohon said.
"There’s many areas of investment that this league is making, from growing in Toronto to obviously our stadiums. There’s $160 million in investments in stadiums that we’re making.
"So I think it’s really important that people understand, and our players understand that, and our fans understand, this league is getting stronger but we still have a ways to go."
When asked about the league being philosophically against the concept of a revenue-sharing agreement, Cohon said he wouldn’t talk specifics.
"I’ll talk about where we are as a league, but I was pretty resolute last time that when we negotiate that I am not going to negotiate in public," he said. "So I’m not going to comment on our position on revenue sharing or on what the salary cap’s going to be in the future.
"We’re going to negotiate a fair deal. We’re going to negotiate in the context of where we are as a league today and where we want to be as a league."
Cohon earlier joked with Blue Bombers president and chief executive officer Wade Miller that the last three teams to host the Grey Cup won the game, so the pressure is on him to follow the trend. The B.C. Lions are hosting this year’s game.
That could be a tough task for the Bombers, who finished last season with a league-worst record of 3-15 that tied a franchise-low mark for an 18-game schedule. They’ve also missed the playoffs four of the past five years and haven’t won a Grey Cup since 1990, a league-high drought of 23 seasons.
This year’s squad is headed by rookie head coach Mike O’Shea and first-year general manager Kyle Walters. It’s also Miller’s first year at the helm after he was appointed on an interim basis midway through last season.
"We plan on showcasing to the rest of Canada what kind of spirit and party Manitobans can throw for this Grey Cup festival," Miller said, referring to a "record" tail-gate party.
He expects the event will bring in about $3-4 million for the club, which has to make a $4.5-million mortgage payment on its $200-million stadium this year.
Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger, who also wore a blue-and-gold tie at the luncheon, announced the province is contributing $4 million toward hosting the game. He estimated the economic activity could generate $85-100 million for the province.
"In my opinion, we have all the makings here in Manitoba of a barn-burner Grey Cup in 2015," Selinger said.
The Bombers still have to do some upgrades to the new stadium, which includes work that’s underway to enclose and expand the press box.
The team has to foot the bills for those improvements, but Selinger also announced the province is providing an additional $3 million to enable the facility to be used year-round.
Short on specifics, Selinger and Miller stressed that doesn’t mean a dome for the field. Rather, it’s upgrades to improve its energy efficiency so it can be used further into the winter and earlier in the spring, Miller said.
When asked if that included hosting an outdoor NHL Heritage Classic Game, Miller said that might be one example. The Winnipeg Jets have reportedly asked to host one of the games during the winter of 2015-16.
The luncheon’s guests also included Bomber alumni, who will be part of the Grey Cup festivities.
Former offensive lineman Chris Walby, who played 16 seasons for the Bombers from 1981-96, said Investors Group Field will be a great site for a Grey Cup.
And he didn’t mind weighing in on the current contract negotiations and potential of a strike.
"(The players) probably have the most strength they’ve had in any year that I’ve ever been involved in this league," Walby said.
"And the fact that they did agree that at one time if the revenues increased, they would get a bigger share of the revenue."
He does see both sides of the issues, but added the average player’s career is only about four years.
"I think they should be compensated," Walby said. "I don’t think they’re asking for the world, but I think they should be getting a little bit more than what they’re getting."